Smell a rat
Incest, bestiality and a disruptive rodent - FRANCOIS OZON's Sitcom certainly isn't light entertainment.
Words: Beth Williams
It's not Birds 0/ A Feather and it’s not Friends. Nevertheless, FrancOis Ozon's mowe Sitcom does, as its title suggests, describe the disruption of a French bourgeOis household by a new pet rat, in the style of a situation comedy,
'One of the reasons I used the sitcom format was because I found myself With limited means,’ says the director, 'It was a question of small budget,
'I am terrified of rats, so I thought it might be
therapeutic and that after the
shoot I'd be able to touch them. But it didn't work.’
choosing a single location, and
shooting Within one month ’ However, although the sitcom style is
very familiar in our TV Culture, Ozon’s
use of it is by no means standard So,
while his film appiies the key features
of flashback and dream sequences, he certainly does not utilise them in the traditional manner. Similarly unconventional is his choice of a rat as the catalyst in transforming a normal French family into a bunch of sexual deviants.
’I wanted to have a foreign body coming from the exterior to bring mayhem to the nuclear family, and I realise that there are a lot of films that function that way, with a closed group and with an element, usually a person, coming in and disturbing it all. What I thought would be fun was to use not a man, but an animal.
’I am terrified of rats, so I thought it might be therapeutic and that after the shoot I’d be able to touch them. But it didn't work. Luckily the actors had no problem with the rat. The actress who played the mother told me that if it had been a spider, she would have refused to do the part, but the only person who really couldn’t touch it was the actress playing the Spanish maid. What we ended up doing With her was making her wear a Wig when the rat was on her head, and we used a double when it was on her hand.’
With homosexuality, sado- masochism, bestiality and incest featuring side by side in the film, is Ozon deliberately trying to provoke?
’Not provoke, no,’ he replies ’More disturb and move, so that people see thrngs differently I want the spectator
Rat’s tale: director Francois Ozon with Evelyne Dandry (left) and Lucia Sanchez (right)
to question their conventions I like to reassure them and then pull the ground from under them.’
And Without giwng too much away, a prime example of Ozon's clever manipulation of audience perception is a scene towards the end of the film in which something unfortunate happens to the rat, something which is perfectly acceptable in parts of the world, but which Ozon gleefuliy declares 'has disturbed people even more than the scene containing images of mother and son having sex'
So, since the rat meets an untimely end and since Ozon still has his rat phobia, it seems pertinent to ask whether any animals were harmed during the making of the film.
’We used more than one rat and they were all different sizes. Some were fat, some were thin One has died since making the film, but that was not because of us'
Edinburgh Filmhouse from Fri 1 Ian. Glasgow Film Theatre from Fri 8 Ian. See review.
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17 Dec 1998—7 Jan I999 THE LIST 35